Milner v. Duncklee

Decision Date08 November 2006
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:02cv1929 (SRU).
Citation460 F.Supp.2d 360
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesSteven MILNER, Plaintiff, v. Lester DUNCKLEE, Bryan Schneider, and Michael Peckham, Defendants.

Steven Milner, Stonington, CT, Pro se.

Jeffrey J. White, Rhonda J. Tobin, Robinson & Cole, Hartford, CT, Scott M. Karsten, Karsten & Dorman, LLC, West Hartford, CT, for Defendants.


UNDERHILL, District Judge.

On September 30, 2002, the defendants arrested Steven Milner in his home. The arrest was made pursuant to a state court capias issued for failure to appear in a civil case. Milner subsequently filed a complaint, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging principally that defendants violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

This case raises the issue whether the capias1 satisfies the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. For the reasons that follow, I conclude that it does not and that, therefore, the defendants violated Milner's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures when they crossed the threshold of his home to serve the capias. Because in September 2002 it was not clearly established whether a facially valid capias authorized a home arrest, however, defendants are shielded from liability by qualified immunity.

I. Relevant Background
A. Procedural History

On September 30, 2002, defendants Lester Duncklee, a State Marshal, and Bryan Schneider and Michael Peckham, Town of Stonington police officers, arrested Steven Milner in his home. The arrest was authorized by a capias originally ordered by Superior Court Judge Samuel Teller in April 1995 and then re-issued and signed by an assistant clerk on September 6, 2002. See Defendants' (Schneider and Peckham) Exhibit F; Traystman Affidavit (doc. # 133) at ¶ 9. On December 23, 2002, Milner filed an amended complaint (doc. # 5), alleging violations of his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, illegal forced entry, violations of the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause, false imprisonment, false arrest, trespass, false representation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"). On September 15, 2003, I held oral argument on defendants' motions to dismiss, and I dismissed the IIED claim, false arrest/false imprisonment claims, and the constitutional claims to the extent that they relied on false arrest. I denied the motions to dismiss with respect to the claims of unreasonable search and seizure and all other claims that depended on that legal theory. See Sept. 15, 2003 Trans. (Doc. # 65) at 28-30. The following claims remain: (1) violation of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures with respect to the alleged illegal entry into Milner's home without a warrant; (2) violation of the Equal Protection Clause based on a theory of malice; (3) violation of the Due Process Clause; (4) fraudulent misrepresentation; and (5) trespass.

In January 2006, Milner filed a motion for summary judgment on all claims, and defendants subsequently each filed a cross motion for summary judgment. On August 15, 2006, I held oral argument on the motions. At oral argument, I indicated that I intended to write on the issue whether defendants violated Milner's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as whether qualified immunity applied. I also explained how I intended to rule. After further considering the issues, my ultimate ruling is the same as I suggested at oral argument, although my reasoning is somewhat different. I also told counsel that my ruling on the record primarily would serve as my decision on all of Milner's other claims, although I discuss those claims briefly below.

B. Issuance of the Capias

On April 24, 1995, Milner failed to appear for a hearing before Connecticut Superior Court Judge Samuel Teller, the purpose of which was to address Milner's failure to pay child support. See Traystman Affidavit (doc. # 133). As a result of Milner's failure to appear at the April 1995 hearing, the judge ordered a capias for Milner's arrest with a $10,000 bond requirement. The record does not contain a transcript of the April 24, 1995 hearing; thus, there is no record of what specific findings, if any, Judge Teller made. Milner then left the state of Connecticut. Sometime in 2002, Gary Traystman, an attorney for Milner's ex-wife, learned that Milner had returned to Connecticut, and Traystman then asked Duncklee to serve the capias on Milner. Id. at ¶ 2. The capias served on Milner is dated September 6, 2002 and is signed by an assistant clerk, not Judge Teller. See Defendants' (Schneider and Peckham) Exhibit F.

C. September 30, 2002

When Duncklee arrived at Milner's home on September 30, 2002 at about 9:30 p.m., Duncklee knocked at the front door, and Heidi Cannon, Milner's girlfriend, opened it. Duncklee identified himself and said he had an "arrest warrant" for Milner. He placed his foot against the door, which was 12-18 inches open, to prevent it from closing. Cannon told Duncklee that he could not come in, and she tried to close the door, but could not because Duncklee's foot was in the doorway. Duncklee showed the capias to Cannon; she read it, and then handed it back, repeating that Duncklee could not come in. Duncklee did not force the door open. Without pushing Cannon, Duncklee opened the door when Cannon stepped back. It is disputed whether Duncklee leaned against the door. See Defendants' (Schneider and Peckham) Exhibit D at 50. In her deposition, Cannon testified that it would be fair to say that the officers could have reasonably thought that she was not trying to prevent them from entering after she read the capias and gave it back to Duncklee.

Once inside, defendants commenced a search of the home. See Duncklee Memorandum (doc. # 136) at 8; Dunklee's Rule 56(a) Statement (doc. # 127-5) at ¶¶ 53-55. Duncklee asked Cannon to show him the garage. He saw Milner's car in the garage and then began to look for Milner on the second floor. Milner appeared in the foyer, and Duncklee served him with the capias. Milner telephoned his attorney. Once they were both outside, Duncklee handcuffed Milner and transported him to Corrigan Correctional Facility.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence demonstrates that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) (party must present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment).

When ruling on a summary judgment motion, the court must construe the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970); see also Aldrich v. Randolph Cent. Sch. Dist., 963 F.2d 520, 523 (2d Cir.1992) (court is required to "resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party"), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 965, 113 S.Ct. 440, 121 L.Ed.2d 359 (1992). When a motion for summary judgment is properly supported by documentary and testimonial evidence, however, the nonmoving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but rather must present significant probative evidence to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 872 (2d Cir.1995).

"Only when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of the evidence is summary judgment proper." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir.1991) cert. denied, 502 U.S. 849, 112 S.Ct. 152, 116 L.Ed.2d 117 (1991); see also Suburban Propane v. Proctor Gas, Inc., 953 F.2d 780, 788 (2d Cir.1992). If the nonmoving party submits evidence that is "merely colorable," or is not "significantly probative," summary judgment may be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact. As to materiality, the substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.

Id. at 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505. To present a "genuine" issue of material fact, there must be contradictory evidence "such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Id. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

If the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of his case with respect to which he has the burden of proof at trial, then summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548. In such a situation, "there can be `no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. at 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548; accord Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir.1995) (movant's burden satisfied if he can point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of nonmoving party's claim). In short, if there is no genuine issue of...

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